There is an exhibit in the Heron Gallery at the Paul Smith’s College VIC that everyone should go see. It is a collection of oil and watercolor paintings, poetry and written narrative that has great merit. This show would command respect no matter where it is exhibited, but it is especially relevant here in the Adirondacks, as it was in Vermont, it’s state of origin.
I’m primarily a landscape painter and one could say I choose to paint wilderness landscapes that are “pretty”. That’s not aways why I actually chose something as my subject matter, but it probably comes across that way. I don’t often paint anything that’s man-made or unattractive.
The show at the VIC is different and unique. Painter Kathleen Kolb and poet/writer Verandah Porche have chosen the working forest as their subject matter. They have painted/written about skidders and pulp mills much like Da Vinci and Vasari portrayed pastoral Italian landscapes and portraits of the Medici. Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and this exhibit will open your eyes to things you probably never considered “beautiful”.
My first look at the show was after skiing for a couple of hours. I popped my head into the gallery, shedding my outerwear, and my first reaction was “oh, large photos of logging operations” and I literally turned away. They looked like good photos, but didn’t really pull me in.
But I went back for a second look. These weren’t photos, these were meticulously painted oils and watercolors that actually seemed to have been inspired much like I am when I paint. I look for unique lighting conditions, subtle color changes, interesting compositions of shapes and forms. All of that was there, in these paintings, but there were piles of cut logs, giant pieces of machinery and people! Then I was hooked. As I walked around, I read a few of the poetry or narratives that accompanied the pieces, enough to know that the author chose her words much the same way the painter obviously chose her subject matter. However, I want to experience the whole show visually first, I would come back to read later. (I was also feeling cold and clammy after skiing and really needed a change of clothes and a hot lunch more than anything).
Right near the last of the paintings two women entered the gallery space through the back door, close to my age, chatting about the show. It only took a moment to figure out they were the painter and the writer and so we engaged in some brief conversation. I apologize now to them for seeming to not want any in depth discussion, but the above mentioned cold and clammy clothing was urging me to move rather than talk.
So I did return to the VIC, after another ski, (and again, cold and clammy), and once more gave the paintings a quick good look and then bought the very reasonably priced soft cover book that documented this exhibit. “Shedding Light on the Working Forest” is a well put together collection of 29 paintings and drawings, poetry, narratives and essays that do exactly what the title says. The show has been traveling to a number of locations in Vermont and will be at the VIC through March 25, 2017.
There are a lot of places in the natural world that are beautiful. This show will make you think twice about what beauty is. I’m only going to describe one painting and encourage you to get out to the VIC, go for a snowshoe walk or ski, and see this show.
The sky is that pale, soft golden yellow that you get really early in the morning, before the sun is fully up in the sky. The purplish grey mountain in the background could be in the Adirondacks. Snow covers the ground, barren hardwood trees stretch branches right up off the top of the canvas. Blue shadows are cast upon the snow…. and there’s a pick up truck hooked up to a giant skidder, with chains on the wheels, that takes up the entire right side of the composition!
Starting the Skidder
Probably zero out there, 6:30 or 7:00 am.
When we get to work in the morning,
the truck is nice and warm. We plug in the hoses
and run water through each other.
Within ten minutes that skidded will start,
just like summertime.
You put your hand on the side of the motor
or the hose and it’s nice and warm. Yeah,
it’s like a transfusion. Same thing.
The steam coming out of the exhaust
is just so natural. It’s a ’77 skidder.
We’ve still got that skidder. They last a long time.
I could write a lot more but the show is better seen in person. The book says they aren’t particularly making any kind of political or environmental statement. There’s not really any pro or con on display here – there is just the beauty of working men and women in a working landscape and words that tell their stories.
The Paul Smith’s College VIC is about a mile north of the campus on Route 30. There are miles of groomed trails that are open every day, (with a modest fee for trail use), but the building is only open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 – 5. However, they will be open all of President’s Week. For more information call (518) 327-6241 or visit their website. Learn more about the exhibit online.